November 2011 – Istanbul
Sultanahmet is the original heart of old Constantinople, now Istanbul. This is THE area that draws tourists in the by the coach load. The magnets being Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Basilica Cisterns, all located within spitting distance of each other.
It is the stuff of fairy tales with winding cobbled streets, soaring minarets, wheeling seaguls, ancient architecture, bustling bazaars and spooky underground cisterns. There are plenty of street vendors to tempt hungry tourists, carts piled high; with fresh simit (wreaths of bread sprinkled with sesame seeds), roasted chestnuts or ice-cream.
I asked my Dad (bonafide Ice-Cream Guru) who was visiting, what the ice cream vendors were doing with their long handled wooden paddles. I assumed it was some kind of traditional churning technique. Disappointingly, he knew exactly what they were really up to and nudged me towards the rear of the cart. He pointed between the vendors feet to a stash of empty ice-cream tubs and explained that it was a trick-of-the-trade. They were moulding rectangular blocks of cheap store-bought ice cream to make them look like they belonged in the cylindrical tubs on the stand.
Of course, despite the slightly questionable ice-cream display tactics, Dad was still sweet-talked into buying the kids a cone each. It is, always has been and always will be the rule, that when you give ice-creams to small children on a hot sunny day the ice-cream will melt all over them faster than they can eat it and that’s all part of the sticky fun. But – not – in – Istanbul.
As our children sat in the park eating their ice-creams, happy and oblivious, a crowd of locals quickly gathered around us to stop, stare, point, discuss earnestly, laugh incredulously and photograph this rare marvel of the natural world. I have since discovered that children in Turkey are to remain spotless whilst eating. Spoon feeding and constant wiping are the order of the day. I’m guessing baby lead weaning is an absolute no-no here
I’ve noticed other cultural differences in a similar vein. International consensus is that the British ALWAYS talk about the weather. It’s true, we do. However, it is generally a conversation starter, a pleasantry, an ice-breaker rather than an actual life defining obsession. Come rain, hail or snow, the planned barbecue/walk on the beach/school trip will still go ahead, we just dress accordingly.
Here in Istanbul, the weather is monitored scrupulously and Turkish mums frequently discuss the 7 day forecast. Rain is considered a cruel wrecker of plans. Gathering clouds work to our advantage. The locals stay at home if there is even the merest hint of rain, so the park will be empty, restaurant service quicker and queues shorter. And yet, despite the anxiety produced by the onset of rain, Pickle and his British playmate, DirtyPigeon are the only children at playgroup that actually own wellies and raincoats.
The aversion to rain extends to the water tray at playgroup. Some children are categorically not allowed near it. Others may put their hands in and play gently (preferably with an apron on). However, should they get the tiniest bit splashed there is a panicked stripping off of any remotely damp garments by their caregiver. Splashed child is then immediately manoeuvred inside to be given a complete change of clothes and then steered towards less dangerous indoor play.
Pickle on the other hand either climbs right on in there or tips the whole thing over. It causes complete pandemonium. I shouldn’t smirk, but I do.
So, yes, I’m looking forward to further trips to see the sights and sounds in Old Constantinople and to encountering further cultural conundrums of which I’m sure there will be many.